“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” - Henry Ford
Well known Italian entrepreneur, Ernesto Sirolli, stated in a TED Talk that nothing is ever built by just one person. God has never created anyone who can “…make it, sell it, and keep track of the money.” His point is that it takes a team!
I try to make a habit of looking for models in real life and this was illustrated recently when staying with my wife in the hospital while she was recovering from a hip replacement surgery. People came in and out of the room – each with their unique role and purpose.
I expected the primary surgeon, and a nurse or two; but the team caring for my wife included an RN, an LPN, a Physicians’ Assistant, a Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, a case manager, a clinical supervisor, housekeeping, two food service people, a chaplain … and I then lost count. Each regularly rotated in and out of the room; each with a job to do – all focused on the well-being of the patient – my dear wife.
The experience made me reflect on how a business develops from a problem to be solved or a customer to be served. Lean startup gurus Marc Nager, Clint Nelson, and Franck Nouyrigat suggest that while ideas are important, TEAM is essential.1 So what does that mean for Business as Mission (BAM) startups or for businesses attempting to scale?
What does a team look like?
A growing body of research supports the idea that investors prefer to invest in teams. History reminds us that even the “greats” such as ark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Phil Knight did not accomplish greatness alone.
A team provides the diverse capabilities and social networks important to critical customers, resources and talent, and eventual buyers for the company. The relevant components of any discussion on teams are much more complex than what one simple blog can explore. But for starters let’s look at who should be on the BAM startup team.
Team builders face many difficult questions such as: should I have a highly diverse team very different from me, or a team that is more like me in values and skills? Should I bring on people I know so that I start with high levels of trust?
9 guidelines for a BAM startup team
No founding team is perfect, but recent literature2 suggests some general guidelines:
1. Common vision: The lead entrepreneur and the team must share the same vision for the venture.
2. Common passion: Team members must be passionate about the business concept and work as hard as the lead entrepreneur to help make it happen.
3. Industry experience: At least one of the team members must have experience in the industry in which the venture is being launched.
4. Concept testing and contacts: There must be significant research and testing of the concept and then solid industry contacts.
5. Access to capital: Research and consulting help must surface appropriate sources of capital, backed up by a good credit rating for the team members.
6. Functional expertise: The team’s expertise must at least cover key functional areas such as operations, management, finance, marketing, product understanding.
7. Long haul fortitude: The team must have the time to spend on the demands of the startup and be able to endure the financial constraints of a typical startup.
I would also add these two in light of the additional demands on a BAM startup:
8. Culture and language: Many of the team members must have understanding and appreciation of the culture and language of the host nation.
9. Missional focus: All team members must understand, support and promote the missional component of an integrated enterprise.
As I review the various projects I have observed over the years, I think that many BAM endeavors lack one or more of these. I wonder whether the lack of one or more of these will result in certain failure. I wonder why most businesses do not have all nine of these items and what will it take to improve the startup preparation for BAM teams.
In early June each year the rodeo season in Oregon kicks off with the Sisters Rodeo. Four hundred cowboys drive into town with their horse trailers and teammates and compete for the prize money of champion calf roping, steer wrestling, bronco riding, bull riding and similar high risk activities.
And many would-be cowboys also ride into town in high priced motor homes, or luxury vehicles parked at 4-star hotels. These also walk around with classy cowboy boots, buckles and cool hats. How does one know the real cowboy from these dudes strolling down main street looking for a place for a $40 steak?
I was a cowboy for a weekend – twice! I guess I am a slow learner because I did not pass the test – the test of a real cowboy. Sure I can ride a horse and stay on one without fear but it is so much more. I grew up loving the old cowboy songs like, El Paso, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Amarillo by Morning, and Cool Water. But that never made me a cowboy.
What marks a real cowboy?
What is a real cowboy? Is it the hat? Is it the boots and wranglers? Is it the Skol stuffed into the lower jaw? Maybe it is the horse or the chaps or the rope? Maybe the saddle, the spurs or the horse trailer?
No, the test of a real cowboy is on the ranch of real-life activities or in the arena in front of 8,000 people living up to the expectations of the ride, or the rope. The key questions are: can he stay on any animal, no matter how wild? Can he use a rope to bring in a ‘dogie’? Can he mark a horse out of the chute? And can he wrestle a half ton steer to the ground? Can he actually do it? He is a real cowboy because he can do those things.
What marks a real BAMer?
What about Business as Mission (BAM)? ‘BAMer’ is a term often used to describe a person operating a Kingdom business in another country in another culture and language. What can he or she do? What are the behaviors and actions and activities which indicate this person might be for real?
A BAMer is a person with the requisite Competence, Character, Commitment and Charisma1 (these are topics for another article), but what then are the activities they demonstrate? What can they do?
1. Spirituality: A BAMer has a robust theology of work with an understanding that marketplace activity is worship; their business is ministry no less than any other ministry. He demonstrates this in his walk with God both in private and at work. He has a vital devotional life of study of the Word and in prayer. He treats business activity as a spiritual activity.
Kirk Parette, manager of Barrington Gifts in Asia says “every day on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship”. On a daily basis he integrates a life of faith and following Jesus with the work of the business, and employees see that in everyday business and life.
2. Cultural understanding and appreciation: A BAMer respects culture and is a student of it for his lifetime.He is constantly growing in the language, listening for cultural nuances and loving people within the culture. He is continually curious and the nationals notice and value it. They have friends in both the national and expat community.
That is true for Rob and his family in Indonesia. They work hard at speaking the language well, respect the culture and the employees “love working for Rob” because he values them, does things with them outside of work hours, and treats them fairly.
3. GRIT: GRIT is - Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity. He does not give up and works hard to accomplish the vision and realize the potential of his God-given wiring and the opportunities of the business.
That has certainly been true of Lee who started a business in a former Soviet republic and before long his partner had stolen his assets and left him penniless. I called him and asked him what he was going to do now. He readily responded by saying, “I have gone down the street and have opened a new office and started over.” Lee had grit.
4. Team orientation: A BAMer realizes that no person can do everything herself. As entrepreneur Ernesto Sirolli affirms, “this world has never seen a person who can make it, sell it, and keep track of the money”. A good entrepreneur understands this. And good BAMers understand this and develop team members who have the varied skills of production, management, marketing, accounting, financial management etc.
Britanny understood that as she and others started Baku Roasting Company. She brought coffee production skills to the table but she surrounded herself with capital developers, managers, operational people, marketers, HR experts, an accountant and legal advice. The result – two stores in that city totally independent and sustainable.
5. Tolerance for risk: Risk is a quality of entrepreneurs, but business developers also are generally not risk averse. There are so many uncertainties to living and working in corrupt and politically unstable countries that a high tolerance of risk is mandatory. This is so true for a Jesus-follower since religious intolerance is a concern worldwide. So much of risk management is to mitigate it, but sometimes one needs to realize that to “carry our cross” is a daily necessity.
For Dave and Susie in the Balkans, a tolerance for risk became mandatory when they experienced political, religious and economic conditions destroy their first agribusiness. They continued on, learning tolerance for the cultural, economic and political irregularities and making friends with local Muslim religious and political leaders in the city.
6. Servant Leadership skills: First and foremost a BAM leader is a servant as modeled by Jesus. While serving others, the leader respects the management skills, financial expertise and production abilities of all team members. He is there to help employees and team members develop, grow and serve. The org chart has the servant leader at the bottom, serving all others to the “greater glory of God.”
That is certainly true of Bill who was called by an employee, “the best boss in all of China” simply because he cared for her family, and loved them as a servant.
7. Long haul mentality: A BAMer knows that he or she must be a life-long learner, must stay until God makes it clear that it is time to depart. This is not a short-term assignment, but a commitment which can be demonstrated over enough time to see the results of the quadruple bottom line: profitability/sustainability; SME job creation; spiritual and social transformation; and stewardship of creation.
Ryan and Jana started ABC English School and stayed long enough to see a profitable business emerge, job creation for 65 employees and lives transformed as they became disciples of Jesus. Without that long-term commitment, it is doubtful that success would have followed them.
These are just some of the things which show the world that a BAMer is for real. He or she is doing these things. They demonstrate spirituality, the value of culture and servant leadership. Everyone can see their grit and tolerance for risk and that they are in it for the long haul. They show a team orientation. Such a BAMer is a real cowboy – a real BAMer!
1 Charisma is defined by Peter Shaukat to mean the “stirring up” of God-given gifts.
Some years ago two IBEC consultants and I were consulting with several businesses in Kazakhstan. One business asked two of our guys Ken Leahy and Rick Hamm (both former senior executives of Fortune 500 companies) to provide some training on relationship marketing and on mentoring.
That business is Gateway Ventures. Their story is simply amazing and contains many of the elements of how God and his servants work to bring the Quadruple Bottom Line to the ends of the earth. Thanks to Jo Plummer, editor of the BAM Review, for writing this story in 2014 and recently republishing it as part of their 'BAM is Global: Around the World in 40 Days' series. Here's the story in its entirety or visit the Business As Mission website for the original, The Extraordinary Story of Gateway Ventures: From India to Kazakhstan.
The Extraordinary Story of Gateway Ventures: From India to Kazakhstan
By Jo Plummer, Business As Mission
Daniel Gunaseelan has a very colourful story indeed. Starting in a tiny village of 100 houses in his native Tamil Nadu, a state on the southern tip of India, Daniel’s story stretches all the way to a multi-million dollar company in the oil and gas industry in Kazakhstan. On the way he tells of false starts and successes, of making and losing his fortune and of a business breakthrough in a blizzard. At every turn, one theme stands out. It is very well summed up by the verse in Psalm 119, ‘’Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path’’. Daniel’s story is about the extraordinary impact we can have for Christ in business as we are faithful to follow Him. As Daniel puts it, ‘As we are prepared to make Jesus our CEO, our boss, He can bring fruitfulness far beyond what we can imagine.’
To Daniel’s father living in a tiny village in South India, Christianity was just another foreign religion. He came from a very traditional Hindu family of priests, but he heard about Jesus at college and was saved. It was a radical conversion and Daniel’s father became an evangelist and church planter all over rural India.
While Daniel was being born his father was praying and God gave him a vision. In the picture he saw the biblical Daniel praying in the lions’ den. Just as Daniel was born, his father shouted out a prayer that his new son would be called Daniel and would become a missionary to the communist ‘lions’ of the Soviet Union. ‘I knew from early on that I was called to be a missionary to Russia,’ Daniel jokes, ‘but to me it seemed whenever I was a really naughty boy, my father would pray that prayer over me again, but extra loudly!’
In school, the routine question, ‘What do you want to become after your studies?’ always gave Daniel a dilemma. ‘It killed me to have to answer that,’ he recalls, ‘I knew that being a missionary was in my blood, it was my calling, but at that time I was away from God. Instead I used to say that I wanted to become a businessman and then I would sit down quickly!’
In 1985, at the age of 17, Daniel became a Christian, dedicated his life back to God and began to focus on his missionary call once more. However, Daniel often struggled with his father’s vision, ‘I was living in a very needy country, I was involved in student ministry and I often wondered why I needed to go somewhere else’, he says. Then in 1989, during a prayer time, the Holy Spirit spoke to him from Genesis 12 v 1 “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Daniel felt God speak to him that India had been a recipient of the gospel for generations, that giving is more blessed than receiving and that he must go.
The vision looked like it might become a reality in 1991. Daniel had just completed a Masters degree in Russian Language and Economics at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, when he got the chance to go as a PhD student to the Moscow State University. However, the opportunity never materialized, the Soviet Union was collapsing and the doors for him to go as a student began to close. Finally, when there was no hope of going to Russia as a student, Daniel began his PhD studies at the JNU in Delhi and the dream of getting to the Soviet Union felt distant.
Jump off the Donkey!
In 1993 God started speaking to Daniel again about his calling, reminding him that he would be a blessing to the nations. Shortly after that, Daniel got a job in the 3rd largest company in India, the Thapar Group. His job was in overseas business development and required him to travel into the ex-Soviet countries. ‘It was an extraordinary time’, shares Daniel, ‘I was traveling all over the former Soviet Union for 15-20 days out of each month. It gave me a great exposure to all sorts of people and experiences. I traveled extensively and met many top business and political leaders.’
Daniel was able to start a student ministry out of his excess income and spent over 3 years in that job. In 1995 his directors wanted to send him to manage a new project in Africa. However, it was at that time God clearly spoke to Daniel about taking the unexpected step of leaving that company. Daniel shares, ‘I felt I should stick with the area that I was called to, the former Soviet countries. God gave me a vision of myself riding a donkey and told me I needed to jump off that donkey because instead he wanted to give me a horse!’
Daniel gave in his notice and left the company on a Friday. On Saturday someone called to offer him a job in another business. He accepted the new job which involved a posting in Kazakhstan to do project appraisals and financing. Once again this new position was an opportunity for Daniel to learn more about business, but he was still uneasy. ‘I was running cell groups three times a week in the office, actually in the board room of the company. But even so, in the back of my mind I kept thinking I was wasting my time doing business. I felt I was running away, wasting time in the marketplace doing only a little Kingdom work,’ says Daniel. This message, that only traditional church work was ‘true ministry’, was the established way of thinking in the church in India and therefore was part of Daniel’s worldview. This was only reinforced again when in 1997, he felt he should finally commit his life and become a staff member of his church in Kazakhstan. Many people congratulated him on his decision to pursue his ‘real’ calling to ministry.
New Vision, New Ventures
However, it was about that same time that God started speaking to Daniel in a new way. Three times, from three different sources, Daniel received the verse in Micah 4:13, “I will give you hooves of bronze, and you will break to pieces many nations. You will devote their ill-gotten gains to the LORD, their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” Another word came that God was about to do something interesting and big in Daniel’s life. It was then that Daniel met a pastor from Singapore who challenged him and encouraged him in his calling to the marketplace.
The connection with the Singaporean pastor turned out to be a crucial relationship. Essentially God had given a group of pastors a vision in the early 1980s to start a cell church movement. They had been teaching about cell church principles in parts of Central Asia, but in order to be able to do so had started up a business in Kazakhstan.
Daniel was invited to join the Board of that business and began looking for opportunities to make some money to support himself. His first business venture was importing containers of tea from India, since he had lots of friends who could supply tea. That business took off, as Daniel explains. ‘We made a lot of money importing tea, we did that for a year or so in 1998 and 1999 and it was a great business’. In the summer of 1999 Daniel returned to India to get married to his wife Sarah. Riding high on a wave of success and at the beginning of his married life, he returned to Kazakhstan with his new bride.
Just one month later, in June of 1999, the currency of Kazakhstan devalued by 50% and there was an economic crisis in the country. Daniel was selling his tea in the local currency which suddenly was not worth very much. His supplier trusted him and had extended credit to him, but when it came time for Daniel to pay up, he couldn’t. Daniel’s once thriving tea importing business was suddenly bankrupt. To add insult to injury, one week later the company was robbed. Daniel recalls, ‘Everything we had built up was gone. Our office was cleaned out. I went into work one day to find that everything had been taken, computers, equipment, even our documents, gone. All we had left was our car and then the following week the driver ran away with that.’ It was not an ideal start to married life!
Daniel was at the end of himself, not knowing what to do. The church in Singapore invited him to visit for a week so that they could pray for him. When he met them, he confessed, ‘I’ve lost everything’. Their response was to comfort and challenge him, ‘Who told you you have lost everything? You haven’t lost us and we haven’t lost you!’ Daniel didn’t feel worthy to be up in front of anybody, but the 12,000 strong congregation in Singapore prayed for him on stage in their church service and re-commissioned him in his call to the marketplace. The group of pastors eventually offered to raise half a million US dollars to cover the debt that the business owed and another half a million dollars to start up the business again. Daniel did not accept the money. He explains, ‘I felt the verse in Micah was a promise that we would take the ill-gotten wealth of the nations from the world and bring it into the Kingdom, not the other way around!’
Nothing to Lose
What followed were two very hard years for Daniel and Sarah as they began to look for new business opportunities. Towards the end of 2000 someone gave Daniel a printed catalogue and CD-ROM of household and electrical products. He explains, ‘I had this catalogue, it had 165,000 products in it, anything and everything that could possibly be needed by a business. I heard about a big oil and gas project in western Kazakhstan and thought I could relaunch my business by supplying products to them’. Feeling like there might be an opportunity in the oil and gas fields in the west of the country, Daniel and a couple of friends decided to go and try to make some sales. However, western Kazakhstan was a US$500 plane ride away and they did not have the money to go. Instead they opted to take a $40 train and they set off with hope and just one lead.
The train journey to the oil and gas fields took 72 hours and they arrived at their destination, an isolated town, at 7:30 pm in the middle of a blizzard. A friend had told them to go to a particular office and they would be taken care of, but when they arrived it was deserted. The only available accommodation in the town was in the camp for the oil field workers. When they asked for a room to stay the night, the camp manager relented but warned them that they could stay for one night only.
The next morning, with nothing to lose, Daniel and his friends set off to try and sell some products. ‘We only had the catalogue and the CD-ROM, so we split up. Somehow my friends got the nice, thick, printed catalogue and I got the CD!’ Daniel recalls, ‘I called it my “magic CD”, you put it into a computer and it loaded up with 165,000 possible products to sell. I toured round the different company offices telling them that we could supply whatever they wanted. I was willing to make a fool of myself to sell something. I prayed for favour and got the sense that I should let nothing stop me.’ The group agreed that if they stayed out late, the camp manager would be forced to let them stay one more night.
However, Daniel’s confidence was sorely tested when at 7:30 pm that evening the three friends regrouped and not one of them had managed to sell a single product. To top it all as they approached the camp, they saw something familiar lying in the street. The camp manager had packed their bags himself and had thrown them out into the snow. He greeted them with a none too welcome, ‘Get the hell out of this place!’
The situation did not look hopeful, and with nowhere to stay for the night the group had no choice but make the return journey empty handed. Just as they were loading their cases into a minibus, a man who Daniel had seen earlier walked by. He exclaimed, ‘Are you still here?!’ and suggested they try the company with offices just next to the camp. Daniel by this stage was sick and tired of trudging around in the snow, but the man said, ‘Why don’t you go in and make a fool of yourself one more time!’ With nothing to lose and his magic CD in hand, he ventured into this company office in a last ditch attempt to sell something.
Breakthrough in a Blizzard
It was late in the evening and the only person still in the premises was one guy all alone in a big room. Not knowing who this might be, Daniel nevertheless gave it his best shot. ‘I stood there and in 15 minutes gave what I thought was quite a good presentation, telling the guy that we could be his “one-stop solution” for all his required supplies’. After Daniel had finished, the stranger was quiet for a moment and when he finally spoke, it did not seem encouraging. ‘Tell me the truth’, he directed at Daniel, ‘you don’t know anything do you?’
With hope crumbling and at the end of himself, Daniel poured out his whole story, right from losing all his money selling tea to finding his bags sitting in the snow minutes before. The man took Daniel’s card, ‘For some reason I like you Daniel, so be faithful and I will build you up’. Daniel wondered who this man was who was offering to build him up. The man who had been the last one left at the office, was an Italian named Lorenzo. Lorenzo, it turned out, was the Director of Procurement for the top Italian oil and gas company in the world and was overseeing a 4.5 billion US dollar gas refinery project. He told Daniel that if he had come earlier in the day his staff would not have let him in. Daniel’s honesty paid off and 3 weeks later, Lorenzo called Daniel and placed his first order for US$2,450.
Growing as a Company
It was December 2000 and Daniel borrowed money here and there from friends to fulfill his first order. When he was faithful in meeting that commitment, the next ordered followed, this time for US$5000. Daniel kept trusting God as the business began to slowly grow and he could pay back his debts. The meeting with Lorenzo turned out to be the breakthrough that Daniel and the business, Gateway Ventures, needed. He explains, ‘After that and for the last 10 years and more, Lorenzo has worked exclusively with us. Not only that, everyone he has met in the industry he has told, “Work with Daniel, make him your supplier”. It was in that way that God blessed us and built us up as a company’.
Daniel had earned Lorenzo’s trust and over the years they developed a strong friendship. ‘Lorenzo would always make fun of my faith’, shares Daniel, ‘but he liked me’. When Lorenzo ended up in the Intensive Care Unit after a heart attack in 2005, he realised he could die at any moment. It was in his time of crisis that Lorenzo called Daniel and, revealing the level of trust he had in their relationship, he charged him, ‘If anything should happen to me, please take care of my family’. It was an extraordinary moment for Daniel, but full of faith he responded, ‘It is now time for me to bless you, I am going to pray for God to heal you!’
Lorenzo was restored to health and and over the years through that relationship Lorenzo and his whole family came to believe in Christ. On a visit to the city in Kazakhstan where Daniel and Sarah live, Lorenzo told a group of successful businessmen, ‘Listen to me, this guy Daniel told me how to believe in Jesus, go and visit his church because God is there!’
Gateway Ventures Today
Today Gateway Ventures is one of the leading service providers to the oil and gas industry, located in 25 countries worldwide, across 4 continents. Gateway employs almost 700 people and has it’s own engineering team and a fabrication yard.
Daniel reflects, ‘It is amazing what God can do through business. I have never pushed my colleagues, I have never even preached the gospel to them openly, but they know I trust God in every aspect of my business life’. Daniel shares that even the unbelievers in the company are used to miracles happening almost every day. When they went through a SWOT analysis as a company, “extraordinary favour” came out as a strength identified by the non-believing managers. ‘They tell me that it’s not a normal day unless some miracle happens!’ says Daniel. He adds, ‘I often say that as Christians in business we have an unfair advantage, it is not a level playing field when God is on our side!’
These days Gateway Ventures has grown so much that Daniel is largely freed up from the day to day operation of the company. ‘I spend all day talking to people about their personal problems. I find the Holy Spirit gives me wisdom as I talk to people. It’s easy to lead people to Jesus as we talk about real personal issues in the context of real life. Over the course of one year seven of my colleagues walked into my offices at various times and told me that they wanted to accept Jesus as their Saviour.’
Daniel has many stories to share of people he works with coming to Christ through his conversations and the things that God shows him as he prays for people. One day whilst having a serious business discussion with a long term colleague Daniel felt Lord telling him to stop the discussion and pray. ‘While I was praying, I felt I should stop praying and tell her that her heart was really hurting and that God wanted to heal it today. With my eyes still closed, I could hear the lady sobbing. She accepted Jesus then and there and today she is one of the leaders in the local church.’
Daniel reflects, ‘I feel like when you do business for the Kingdom it should be a fun process. It’s not about running after money, or grabbing power, it is about being an inheritor of God’s promises. Being in business gives you incredible access to every segment of society. As you take up this calling of God on your life, he will give you influence in the marketplace. In the process you end up being blessed so much and also being able to bless so many others along the way.’
As I travel around, teach in various colleges, and conduct seminars, I am often asked if I know of opportunities for getting involved in the BAM movement overseas with a job opportunity. It is a great question. There is nothing like seeing things first hand and being mentored by a BAM leader on site in their business.
BAM job and internship opportunities
Jo Plummer at Business as Mission does a great job with perhaps the best BAM website available today (http://businessasmission.com). She often posts job opportunities as well as internship opportunities. Over the last several months there have been job and internship opportunities with BAM companies in China, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam as well as other Southeast Asian countries and the Middle East. These companies needed software developers, website designers, IT account managers, operations managers and managing directors in a variety of industries. Visit this page on the Business as Mission website to see current BAM company openings around the world: http://businessasmission.com/category/job-opportunities/.
Another great way to connect with people in the Business as Mission movement is to invest the time and money to attend BAM conferences. Two important BAM conferences are coming up this fall:
BAM Conference 2016 - Los Angeles, CA - September 16-17, 2016: Where BAM Practioners, Mentors and Seekers Come Together
B4T Expo - Chicago, IL - October 13-15, 2016: Transforming Nations Through Business / Reaching the Unreached to Know and Love Jesus
IBEC will have representatives at both of these conferences so let me know ahead of time that you're coming or find us at the conference. We're always happy to connect with people exploring how their giftings and skills in business can be used for God's kingdom.
In the IBEC blog of June 6 entitled "A Kingdom Business - what is it?" I used a Kingdom business coffee company to illustrate four core components of a Kingdom business. The following is from Rick Buddemeier who serves as a cross-cultural analyst and trainer, helping IBEC business consultants and others to serve foreign companies effectively. His comments are instructive for anyone working in OTHER cultures.
Reverse the view: the Other culture's point of view of the core 4 of Kingdom business
In an Other culture, to be respectable, business and work mirror the Other culture.
“The business itself is the ministry” - Larry Sharp
Four commonly defined characteristics of a Kingdom business were recently identified by Larry Sharp, what I'll call the Core 4. He writes:
"A Kingdom business can be defined in various ways. In a study I did several years ago, reviewing the primary authors defining these businesses (Baer, Rundle and Steffen, Eldred, Mulford, etc.), I discovered that every definition includes:
Development of employees for their full potential; and provision of products or services which are a true benefit to their markets, treating all stakeholders with dignity and respect.
A product or service that is offered with excellence.
Profitability, but with a Christian ministry purpose equal or bigger than financial profit.
Servant leadership that seeks to glorify Christ in all aspects of the business and seeks to help others to follow Jesus."
Key concepts from Sharp’s Core 4 through Other culture eyes: how would the Core 4 be understood by an Other culture?
Consider how these might be understood by people who live in Nepal, Senegal, Peru, Italy—or a culture familiar to you.
Here Sharp is talking about recognizing the image of God in every person. We Westerners, however, might confuse “respect” with counting all men as equal, a foreign concept in many Other cultures. If you are the boss there, it is unwise to pitch yourself as an equal or to treat workers as an equal class.
Westerners think future and see “potential.” What do Other culture workers value and expect of themselves as workers? What do local managers and supervisors expect? These are important questions about motivating employees in the Other culture.
Let’s not assume that Other culture peoples don’t know and have excellent service. It’s worth asking (not telling) what “excellent service” is. And, “What’s less than excellent service here?”
Financial profitability + Christian
What kind of purposes for business might believers in the Other culture perceive? It’s important for them to help us understand their business traditions. In Ghana, many in the Church have had a view of business as unspiritual. With that view (Don’t you wonder where it came from?) can generating a profit and making disciples go hand-in-hand?
How is this understood in high power-distance cultures?
Aspects of the business
In many Other cultures, “aspects” will seamlessly include family and friend relationships.
Product or service
If you have spent time in non-Western cultures, you will recognize that “products and services” are an adjunct to RELATIONSHIPS, which is why Sharp chose to say “offered with excellence,” although even that may fall short of “offered to someone who knows you and someone you know and care about in general.”
I dropped into my favorite local coffee company this morning and ordered a small coffee of the day – dark roast – and a bran muffin. The smell of roasting coffee drifted through the surrounding pines taking my mind off of the chill of the 40-degree morning. A 1951 restored Chevy pickup was pulled up in front of the front awning.
As I paid my bill and received the coveted coffee, I noticed the verse of the day boldly declaring its message on the wall for everyone to read, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) This must be a Kingdom business.
But do Bible verses make a Kingdom business? What makes a Kingdom business? There are many technical definitions, but what interests me most are not the definitions or even the helpful instructive scriptures on the wall and the coffee cups. What interests me are the “good works” which God wants us to do. What does that look like at my local coffee company? How are they demonstrating the theory?
For starters, this place is spotlessly clean and well organized. A western theme dominates the atmosphere, from the music to the decorations of nature. There is plenty of room on two floors and on the outside verandas. A gigantic fireplace is an attraction during the winter months.
All the amenities for coffee are at your fingertips. The service is unparalleled as well-trained attendants serve quickly and joyfully and with competence. You can tell they love their jobs and they love the customers.
This local coffee company is committed to fair trade; they regularly visit the growers and seek to insure that fairness prevails in every step of the process, from planting to growing to processing, milling, exporting, roasting and brewing. Quality dominates the people, the process and the product. And the customer sees it at every turn.
A Kingdom business can be defined in various ways. In a study I did several years ago, reviewing the primary authors defining these businesses (Baer, Rundle and Steffen, Eldred, Mulford, etc.), I discovered that every definition includes:
Development of employees for their full potential; and provision of products or services which are a true benefit to their markets, treating all stakeholders with dignity and respect.
A product or service that is offered with excellence.
Profitability, but with a Christian ministry purpose equal or bigger than financial profit.
Servant leadership that seeks to glorify Christ in all aspects of the business and seeks to help others to follow Jesus.
This is not just theory; this is the real thing. This is living out the theory of Ephesians 2:10. It is doing “good works.” Another biblical author, James, in James 2:17 states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” All of this is something that can be replicated – not only around this country but also around the world in different cultures, social contexts and languages – in any business anywhere – for the greater glory of God.
I have been interested in gold panning for many years. The Cariboo Gold Rush took place not far from where I grew up in central British Columbia. Later, I panned for gold in Alaska. In every case I was unsuccessful – but I had fun anyway!
Last week I visited the site of the first gold discovered at Columa, California which kicked off that famous gold rush of 1849. James Marshall had discovered gold in the tailrace of the sawmill he operated with John Sutter. On January 24, 1848 he exclaimed “Boys, I believe I’ve found a gold mine.”
The stampede the following year changed the course of California and the United States forever. The culture of the native peoples was shattered; the town in the mud flats of the bay soon become the well-known city of San Francisco; the Mexican province became the US state of California in 1850, and most all of the thousands who stampeded to the “El Dorado” of California died in poverty including Marshall and Sutter.
What is it about gold anyway? People look for it in hopes of finding it. It is a gamble of “seek and find”. While it is true that gold has sustainability as a precious metal and it has been a standard for currencies worldwide, it is something that must be found or discovered. It is not something that is created. It can lose value and it can be volatile. Without demeaning the value of finding, buying or holding gold, let us think of another perspective.
There are not a lot of enduring evidences in the history of the scriptures or in oral tradition that finding gold is of high value. However, there is biblical evidence that creation of value is more important. After all God is a Creator-God (Genesis 1-2) and he then said to mankind to be creator, worker humans. “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over…every living creature…” (Genesis 1:28).
Perhaps even more instructive is God’s appeal to not forget his laws and how the world works.He maintains in Deuteronomy 8:18, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” What an amazing thought at a time in history when we have been conditioned to believe that the government will provide for our needs, or education can solve problems, or the church can miraculously sustain its members. All these institutions have their value, but none of them can create wealth. None can make something from nothing like the creator-God can or like business can – something ordained by God.
Recently the IBEC blog, "BAM and the end of poverty", quoted Theologian Wayne Grudem who states it well, “…I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business. That is because business produces goods, and businesses produce jobs. And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year. Therefore, if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable business." (Wayne Grudem, 2003).
As we seek to start value and job creating businesses in the world, we are fulfilling the commands of God; without businesses, the world ceases to work. All else consumes the wealth of business. Education, the church, government depend on the income generated by businesses. We are creators of such wealth and it was God’s idea from the beginning that we work hard to create the world’s wealth – and all for his glory!
An Alaskan seafood company provided me with my first real business management experience and its owner, Doris, with my first experience working for a risk taker and industry innovator. I've shared some of the many lessons I learned from her previously (An Alaskan mother, an Alaskan entrepreneur). Last week I shared a little known story of how she hired former Vietnam pilots to fly old DC-3s, 4s, and 6s from the Arizona desert to Alaska so fresh fish could be flown to places like Cook Inlet where there was no glut of fish. If you didn't get a chance to read Lessons I learned from a risk taker - Part 1, it's well worth a few minutes of your time, if for no other reason than you'll have a good story to tell the next time you enjoy a salmon dinner.
Time and again, Doris proved to be a master risk taker. Though it wasn't always easy, working for her taught me countless lessons that have helped me throughout my life and particularly in my work with BAM (Business As Mission) businesses. I'll pass on these nine to you, in hopes that you can learn from them as well:
Tolerance: Entrepreneurs think outside the box. Doris’ ideas were uncomfortable to me as a manager and to the finance people who continuously watched the bottom line. This was another scary idea from Doris. One day I asked where Doris was and she was on a plane for the capitol to talk to the Governor. Wow, I thought, I could have used that money to hire someone to fix an ailing compressor. I either had to learn tolerance for her risk tolerance or get out. As hard as it was, I decided to stay.
Comfort with chaos: As Lewis Carroll said, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” That was Doris. It irritated me. I wondered where the money would come from. I wondered where it went. All this was not my comfort level. Again I had to learn to accept difference and be comfortable with chaos.
Adaptability: As a manager I had a plan. I had goals for the shift, for the fish from the first sight of them as they surfaced from the boats in the brailers, to the semi-trailers that hauled the frozen fish away to faraway places like Norway and Japan. I scheduled breaks for the guys and knew how to put shifts together. Now I was called to the office to think about something new. I had to be patient and learn to adapt.
Communication: I had to learn that sometimes risk-taking entrepreneurs need people like me and I need the courage to ask questions and make comments. That means advanced levels of communication because risk-takers sometimes have their mind made up before you first hear about the idea. It might be too late for my comments but I needed to learn how to do it appropriately and in a timely manner.
Togetherness: In the business world we cannot afford a “we-them” approach as we aim toward common goals. I had to try to get along with Doris, not only as my mother-in-law, but as my boss, and as a person taking risks which sometimes seemed impossible. Some were unreasonable, but when we saw success, I learned to say “you were right – congratulations Doris.”
Acceptance of failure: Not all of Doris’ big ideas were successes; in fact many were not; not unlike big industry in America. Remember the Ford Edsel, New Coke, and Apple Lisa. According to a recent Wall Street study, it is normal for 40% of new product launches to flop. While working with Doris in Alaska’s fish industry I learned that risk-takers accept failure, and I needed to understand that.
There is always another day: With all the things that cause discomfort in working with an entrepreneur who takes risks easily, it can be easy to lose sleep. Maybe it was working the long days and nights, but I eventually learned to sleep and not worry about it and try to develop strategies for learning things like tolerance, adaptability, togetherness, communication, and acceptance of how a risk-taker operates.
It is all about the customer: Managers can get myopic about the details of operation but it is important to keep the big picture in mind. Doris often thought about the value of salmon to the customer – its nutritional value and lofty goals like “feeding the world”. It was all about good food and healthy people. It was about the customer.
Leadership: Doris was a leader and I learned that leaders lead, set direction and inspire followers. I wanted to be a leader too so I watched, listened and learned so that even though I had the innate qualities of a manager, I could learn leadership qualities, see the big picture and drive toward satisfying customer needs, better product quality and employee development. I started to learn to do the right thing and not just to do things right, as Warren Bennis reminds us ("Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.")
The word impossible is not in my dictionary. – Napoleon Bonaparte
I was recently driving through Tucson, Arizona and decided to go out of my way and visit the famed airplane graveyard in the desert. Hundreds of planes are parked there because it is a safe, dry place. Many will never fly again but many are still very useful; it is just that there is no market for them.
The scene reminded me of my mother-in-law who was the first person I met who was a true entrepreneur, one characteristic of which is having a high tolerance for taking risks. I had taken a job in a fish processing plant which she owned. I quickly learned the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of fish processing in Alaska and the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of working with a risk taker.
First a little background on the salmon industry in Alaska.The salmon return to their streams to spawn on a God-given cycle and they return at different times throughout the summer. So when they come to Cook Inlet, the fishermen are ready for the summer’s catch; similarly when they come to Bristol Bay, or to the Copper River area or to the Yukon River. The trick is that no one knows when that time is.
The net result of all this is that the processing plants (such as the one we operated) have a feast or famine situation. There is either so many fish we can’t keep up processing 24/7; or we are sitting around waiting for the fish, paying stand-by crews to do nothing.
An innovator comes up with a novel workable idea; and the entrepreneur makes it happen. I don’t know who thought of the idea, but I know that Doris made it happen.
The novel idea was to fly fish by airplane from an area with a glut of fish to an area waiting for fish to process. So if Bristol Bay had too many fish to handle, why not fly them by the plane load to Cook Inlet where the plants were waiting for their fish. Then when Cook Inlet is glutted, fly their fish to the plants in Bristol Bay which are winding down their operations. A novel and gutsy idea!
Many things needed to happen. Many things could go wrong. But Doris looked at this challenge the way she always looked at such challenges with a “why not? not “why?” perspective. She made some phone calls to the Arizona desert and discovered that DC-3s, 4s, and 6s where sitting there still operable. She also knew the Vietnam war was winding down and young pilots who had returned, were still itching to fly.
So she made it happen – hiring pilots, paying licensing fees, leasing planes, renting tarmac space at small airports, buying fish totes and bringing it all to Alaska. People thought she was crazy. I was one of them. However, not only was it profitable for our company, but she set the stage for an industry of flying fish which continues to this day.
There were lots of risks – too many to discuss in this simple article– but I did learn some things from working with a master risk-taker. Next week I'll share nine things I learned in hopes that it will help you as you, whether you're more like Doris or more like me. Come back next week for Lessons I learned from a risk taker - Part 2:
Comfort with chaos
Acceptance of failure
There is always another day
It is all about the customer
I am looking for a lot of men with an infinite capacity for not knowing what can't be done. – Henry Ford
An indelible image in my mind while growing up in northern Canada was of grown men sleeping in our town’s Greyhound bus station with no place to go and nothing to eat. Years later while living in tropical Brazil our family saw poverty as we had never seen it before. As I have traveled the world, many images are burned into my mind of ragged children begging for food, of adults scrounging for anything they can find in garbage heaps in Latin America, Africa and Asia; of mothers lying on the streets with dying infants in their arms. All of these images and many more represent the 40% of the world’s population living on less than $2.50 per day and crammed into the slums of the world’s great cities.
What am I supposed to think? How did Jesus think? What do the scriptures teach? One thing is for sure – if I had a dollar for every time I have heard the utterance of Jesus, “the poor you will always have with you” as a defense for lack of action, I would be quite wealthy I think. Certainly he was not saying, “Don’t worry about such things, it is clearly God’s will.” Such illogic flies in the face of all the rest of Biblical teaching.
Jesus may have been quoting Deuteronomy 15:11 but it was as a call to action, “…open your hand freely to your poor and to your needy kin…”God cares about the poor and charity (to address immediate needs) is clearly an important principle for all of us as demonstrated by Jesus. However charity is not enough; it does not solve problems in the long run. Poverty will not be solved by massive redistribution of wealth (as proposed by some church councils and major governments). Poverty will be eased and dignity restored when root causes are addressed and we encourage a hand up rather than a hand out. Addressing poverty in a responsible way is a part of how we live out the kingdom of God in our day.
Theologian Wayne Grudem states it well, “…I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business. That is because business produces goods, and businesses produce jobs. And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year. Therefore if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable business." (Wayne Grudem, 2003)1
The BAM Think Tank task force addressed these issues in their report, Business as Mission and the End of Poverty. Most of us may not read this excellently done 74-page report, but you will be happy to know that there is a short version and I highly recommend it. Check it out at: http://businessasmission.com/bam-end-poverty. It is a wonderful summary of why the issue of poverty is a central focus of Business as Mission.
BAM is a key demonstration of obedience to the Great Commandment of Jesus to “love your neighbor.” It is the modern equivalent of Jesus asking the poor and disenfranchised, “What do you want?” (Mark 10:51)2 Their answer: a good job.3
For further insights on this subject I recommending reading and viewing: